I recently had the honor to join an esteemed panel of academic colleagues and fellow advocates at the Urban Affairs Association's Annual Conference. I spoke of my personal connection to my work to fight against displacement in Little Tokyo - and other communities of color - and to shape a new, more equitable system that benefits the people and communities historically ostracized, disempowered, and erased by the current land use, real estate development, and political power systems of our country and cities. Here's some of what I shared.
Some of my earliest childhood memories include accompanying my Nana every Saturday to Little Tokyo for her Japanese grocery shopping errands. The highlight was always stopping for lunch at Frying Fish, known to be the country’s first kaiten-sushi (a “fast food” conveyor belt sushi) restaurant. It opened 1984, but due to intensified gentrification pressures following public investment in a new transit station and a flaming hot downtown real estate market, Mr. Akimoto was forced to close his doors in 2016. Every time I walked by Frying Fish or the changed storefront now, all those memories come back. My Nana is no longer with us, but her spirit and our time together lives on in Little Tokyo.
As the daughter of immigrants from two separate continents, whose only history in this country is tied to the neighborhoods that welcomed them, that reflected their culture, their traditions, their food, their languages…PLACE matters to me. As a mixed-race person of color living outside the black-white binary and who presents as ethnically ambiguous, I’ve never been able to immediately spot another Mexican-Japanese person on the street or at an event and feel that instant belonging, of being seen through our shared history. I’ve only ever felt like I wasn’t an “OTHER” in the PLACES that raised me, that connect me to both my ancestry and my American-ness all at once.
This is the lens through which I navigate life. It is the only lens I know. And it is the reason why my work is centered on seeing and hearing people who are not seen or heard by the systems and structures of the law. These are my people, my community.